State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 85 May 2010


Fred Cahir
'Are You off to The Diggings?': Aboriginal guiding to and on the goldfields

ABORIGINAL TRACKERS ATTRACT stellar attention in non-Indigenous literature, history books and more recently film (thanks in large part to Rolf de Heer's The Tracker and Phillip Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence). The tracker, without a doubt is a fascinating figure in Australian cultural history. Fiona Probyn contends that the tracker is a multifaceted enigma that has been closely scrutinized and that taken together, all these critiques suggest that:
The Tracker is a Dream for filmmakers, explorers, myth makers, writers, politicians, academics alike. He can represent Aboriginal privilege, Aboriginal complicity, oppression, containment. He can represent settler powerlessness, powerfulness, arrogance, ignorance and illegitimacy. It seems that he will take us where we want to go, allow us all sorts of possible readings of Australian culture that are contradictory, eclectic and paradoxical. White settlers will never know what/who the Tracker really is and what he represents. Instead we follow, relying on his knowledge while not having it ourselves.1
By comparison, the Aboriginal guide's place in wider Australia's cinematic or socio-cultural consciousness has largely been sidelined. Phillip Clarke's analysis of the pre-eminent role played by Aboriginal guides in the field of Australian botany is one of the few specific examples where Aboriginal guiding expertise is accorded its due recognition.2 In a sense then the tracker has gained a critical following that has been denied the Aboriginal guide, yet as Reynolds has pointed out in his seminal work Black Pioneers, it was Aboriginal guides who smoothed the moments of colonial crisis, often articulating an economic limit to non-Indigenous occupation and a philosophical/spiritual understanding of the land.3
The very significant and varied role Aboriginal guides fulfilled especially in the initial alluvial gold rush period (the 1850s) when vast tracts of Victoria remained trackless have been largely overlooked by historians. Yet in the historic documents there are many testimonies of miners, surveyors and other travellers in the Victorian auriferous regions making it their business to try to obtain an Aboriginal guide or being dependent on Aboriginal guides. Travellers to and on the goldfields noted how difficult they found it to 'trace out a comparatively frequented road' let alone the dangerous task of setting out on a new path. Several written and visual4 testimonies in the goldfield's historical records attest to the often tragic outcomes of not employing an Aboriginal guide when attempting to traverse from one field to another. Some guides appear to have taken on the role spontaneously – showing new goldfields, rescuing, providing food, liaising, warning, trading and naming features in the landscape.

'Digging life twenty-five years ago' Wood engraving, Australasian Sketcher, 20 December 1879 Picture Collection, A/S20/12/79/156-157

This article sets out to unpack from the primary documents the role and significance of Aboriginal guides, focusing on Victoria's alluvial goldrush period, and to accord them the recognition that was reserved them by miners and others.5 In doing so this paper shall also explore some of the motives for Aboriginal people to act as guides.
A guide's role in both the pastoral and gold periods encompassed determining the most direct and easily traversable route (often along traditional pathways) and locating food, medicine and water in order to sustain their non-Indigenous companions. The guides also assisted in fording rivers safely, preparing temporary shelters, acting as diplomats and interpreters, negotiating passage through the country of resident clans met on the line of march and locating waterholes for horses and other stock. For the most part, non-Indigenous miners' accounts of directly employing Aboriginal people revolve around the profession of guiding. This paper reveals many instances of Aboriginal people initiating and keenly brokering their work relationships. Many sought to find their niche within the imposed Western economy in the vital role of guide, or
what would be termed in today's parlance, 'expert Indigenous consultant', and subsequently initiated their hiring by non-Indigenous miners traveling to the goldfields.
The considerable number of non-Indigenous miners and travellers who recorded their greatly beneficial encounters with Aboriginal guides speaks highly of their standing in this role, in the minds of the people being conveyed across unknown country.6 Elsewhere I have identified how a large number of published regional histories in Australia single out the significant role Indigenous guides played in the exploratory and squatting period of colonialism, and that this role is often the only acknowledged contribution that Indigenous people had in the region's economic history. I explained that 'many [Indigenous guides] sought to find their niche in the non-Indigenous economy and were 'hired' by non-Indigenous entrepreneurs and government officials to provide an explication of the bush and its finer nuances'.7 On Victorian goldfields Aboriginal guides were acting out what would appear to be a continuation of adaptation which had occurred in the exploratory and pastoral periods. D. W. A. Baker, in his appraisal of the role which Aboriginal guides assumed in connection with Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell, thought that the succession of guides employed by Mitchell during his four expeditions in south-eastern Australia 'can be divided into four main groups which may be called hired help; passers on; camp followers; and professionals'.8 Examples of all four types identified by Baker are readily identifiable in both the pastoral period and in the mining period, both in the northern districts of Australia and in Victoria. Henry Reynold's examination of the northern Australia mining districts revealed a similar scenario to what occurred in Victoria, adding that:
Frontier prospectors were often accompanied by and dependent upon Aboriginal assistants in the same way as explorers and pioneer squatters had been before them. Their bushcraft, tracking ability and skill at finding water were all invaluable assets in the interior of the continent and could be directed at seeking evidence of mineralization in the same way that they were used to find good pastoral land and easy tracks across unknown country.9
In the event that an Aboriginal guide could not be procured, frontier prospectors often relied on Aboriginal paths, wells and directions from Aboriginal informants. Historian Les Blake discerned that the early route to the central Victorian goldfields was one blazed by Aboriginals that had been their traditional pathways.10
It is almost certain that in the early period of gold mining non-Indigenous prospectors were at times following the trading routes/song-lines of Aboriginal people in the same way that the earlier frontier explorers and squatters had.11 It is also likely that as in the pastoral period, in attempting to 'stay on one's country', a number of Aboriginal people attached themselves to groups of miners and at times led them to rich gold bearing sites just as many rich pastoral runs had been opened up initially by Aboriginal guides. It would appear that Baker has overlooked this type of guide,
referring to them as 'camp followers', seemingly not recognizing the integral kinship relationships set in place by Aboriginal guides in their association with some non-Indigenous people. It is certainly plausible that some Aboriginal guides in the gold period were perhaps finding their niche in the new dominant economic culture, others for exotic goods, adventure and friendship/kinship. For some Aboriginal people it was probably a mixture of all these motivations.

Unwillingness to guide

Sometimes Aboriginal people were unwilling to guide the non-Indigenous travellers. Their reasons were as follows: firstly, there was a distinct uneasiness among some guides when not in one's own country.12 The perceived usefulness of Aboriginal guides on the goldfields was occasionally limited because they took non-Indigenous people only as far as the borders of their own country. This was an occurrence frequently reported upon in the exploratory and pastoral periods. An example of this phenomenon can be seen in A. W. Clarke's survey of the Alps in 1858, whereupon he had three guides leave him at or between Muriong and Mowamba and another two left at the junction of the Thredbo and Wallendibby Rivers suggesting that these places were borders to the country within which they had no right of ingress.13 Robert Gow, in his travels (1860 – 61) in the pastoral districts of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, also gives an account of some of the difficulties when Aboriginal people were taken out of their country. Having been left behind for a while, Gow's guide, 'Captain Cadell', confessed to a high level of anxiety in country which he saw as 'too much wild'.14 It is evident that during the gold period one of the functions of Aboriginal guides had dissipated. People such as Thomas Mitchell had previously recognized that one of the integral roles of a guide, especially in the exploratory period, and to a large extent in the pastoral period as well, was to reduce the risk of conflict with hostile Aboriginal people who had had no previous associations with non-Indigenous people. By the time of the gold rush in Victoria, very few tracts of auriferous country had been untrammeled by non-Indigenous people, and so this functionality was considerably diminished.
Secondly, Aboriginal cultural responsibilities took priority over non-Indigenous economic considerations. W. T. Dawson, the District Surveyor in the Baw Baw and Walhalla region in 1855, discerned from his Aboriginal informants / guides their uneasiness about traveling into certain regions which were associated with traditions which were life threatening.15 Others such as a party of gold miners who had secured a pact with some Djadjawurrung guides to escort them to the Forest Creek gold diggings was disconcerted when their guides informed them that ceremonial rites took precedence over guiding, and that 'Eager as we were to get away, we were delayed for another evening, in order that a visit from some other friendly tribe might be signalized by a dance. This was their celebrated corroborry ... '.16
The heavily race and class-driven expectations of some non-Indigenous travellers about their Aboriginal guide's role and social standing was also problematic in retaining Aboriginal guides, as work relationships built on a sense of mutual affiliation were commonly considered a critical ingredient for success. Writers such as Francis Lancelott advising on the Australian colonies held out advice on the desirability of hiring Aboriginal guides and how to retain them in service. Rules of thumb on the matter included 'Those who have had long experience in the bush are always careful to avail themselves of the services of one or two trusty black attendants ... As their services are given more from goodwill than from hope of reward, it is only from attachment to persons with whom they are well acquainted that they are ever prevailed upon to lend themselves as parties in an exploring expedition'.17

Getting to the goldfields with guides

Some mining parties recruited Aboriginal guides to get them to the goldfields across Victoria. Phillip Pepper and Tess De Araugo confirm that Omeo Aboriginal people were used by miners 'as guides to the Omeo fields, making use of the fact that they still wandered in search of food, either hunting for it or getting rations in exchange for work'.18 Overlanding prospectors contended that the route from Adelaide to the Mt Alexander diggings could barely be described as a track. It was:
more a confoundment of blazed trees and tumbling rock cairns sketching the way from one waterhole to the next. Finding the flat, scrubby country hard to read, travellers regularly relied on Aborigines for directions to the nearest 'Billy Bung'. Aboriginal children along the route would sing out to passing horsemen, 'Are you off to the diggings?' One early traveller wrote, 'We frequently got a native to go a distance with us as a guide, for which we gave him a stick of tobacco and 'plenty tucker', viz., damper and mutton, or a bellyful to eat.19
Official parties such as South Australian Gold Commissioner Alexander Tolmer's were observed using the services of Aboriginal guides to reach new goldfields, hitherto unexplored. Edward Snell, a miner trekking from South Australia to Victoria observed a 'Commissioner under the Pilotage of a Blackfellow going to some newly discovered diggings on the Wimmera'.20 A tradition of employing Aboriginal guides by Surveyors-General, which had begun with colonization, was avidly continued in the gold mining period to great effect. The Assistant Surveyor-General of South Australia, John MacLaren, when given the crucial task of mapping the first direct route from Wellington to the Mount Alexander goldfields in March 1852, scouted around to collect all possible details about the kind of country he and his men would have to cross, gleaned some information about known water sources of water supply, and 'engaged' an Aboriginal guide to lead his party to Mt Alexander (in central Victoria).21
It was not solely official surveying parties who were reliant on Aboriginal guides when over-landing to the Victorian goldfields from South Australia. George Baker, a

Ludwig Becker (1808-1861)

Portrait of Dick: the brave and gallant native guide
Watercolour and ink, 14.1 × 22.2 cm
Painted at Darling Depot, 21 December 1860, during Burke and Wills Expedition
Ludwig Becker Sketchbook, Australian Manuscripts Collections, State Library of Victoria
member of a prospecting party, recalled being totally dependent on Aboriginal guides when over-landing from Adelaide to the diggings at Castlemaine in central Victoria.22 John Chapple, on his journey from Adelaide to the Avoca goldfields also employed a number of Aboriginal guides including 'Black Solomon', 'King Tom' and an unidentified 'black boy', upon whom judging from the repeated references to bushfoods, it can be inferred that Chapple's party became reliant.23

Reliance on guides

A number of miners were accompanied by Aboriginal guides who on occasion were the actual discoverers of new gold deposits. Sadly, the pioneering role of Indigenous guides in the opening up of goldfields alongside non-Indigenous gold miners is rarely expressed in the historiography of gold mining. Historian Barry Collett discerned from both oral and archival evidence that small groups of anonymous Kurnai were 'often'
members of prospecting parties in South Gippsland and was at times instrumental in their survival and viability. In 1867, a party made up of three unidentified Kurnai and two non-Indigenous prospectors came close to finding the first fortune at what was to become the Stockyard Creek diggings. Autumn rains and a lack of supplies forced them to abandon the diggings, reporting they were only able to survive by relying on the meat from koalas and other animals caught by the Kurnai.24
Texts such as R. W. Christie's and G. D. Gray's history of the Omeo goldfields, Victoria's Forgotten Goldfield and Keith Fairweather's Time to Remember: the history of gold mining on the Tambo refer fleetingly to the fact that Aboriginal guides were often instrumental in the gold story that unfolded, yet as outlined below do not receive recognition from these authors.25 Fairweather provides a significant allusion to the possible influence Aboriginal people played, especially in their role as guides on the more inhospitable goldfields of Victoria, recounting that on one journey to the goldfields 'we escaped Tongio Hill by coming up Swift's Creek (now so called), and had a blackfellow for a guide. Blacks were numerous in Omeo then'.26
This placing of Aboriginal people outside goldfields history is amply demonstrated – as a representative example – in Lloyd and Coombes' 1981 history of gold discovery in Gold at Gaffney Creek.27 Their narrative privileges Wilson, the non-Indigenous 'discoverer' of gold, while reducing indigenous involvement to a subordinate clause ('accompanied by Big Bill the native'). History leaves untold the likelihood that this discoverer may never have 'found good prospects' without the active participation of an Indigenous guide. Another revealing exemplar of this historical oversight is to be found in the details relating to the discovery of one of the richest reefs on the Ballarat field. In a letter to the Geelong Advertiser, Paul Gootch, a miner in the Canadian and Prince Regent gullies near Ballarat, reported in September 1852 'that the way in which the Eureka diggings were discovered was on the occasion of my sending out a blackfellow to search for a horse who picked up a nugget on the surface. Afterwards I sent out a party to explore who proved that gold was really to be found in abundance'.28 This lack of recognition is re-run in the case of the Ararat diggings. At the Linton diggings, south of Ballarat, American miner Charles Ferguson met a large number of the 'Wardy yallock' (Wathawurrung) Aboriginal people in 1851. According to Ferguson,
There was one black fellow of this tribe who told me he knew where there was plenty of gold, about sixty miles away, and offered to take me or Walter there. We made arrangements to go with him and take one other person also ... They were gone about two weeks. They got gold, but the boys said it was the last place ever made and they would not stop there if they could make a pound weight of gold a day. The same place, but a short time after, turned out to be a good gold district and a great quartz region, known as the Ararat diggings.29
There are isolated examples of published regional histories which do reveal the true importance of Aboriginal guides in the search for goldfields. One such example is

Samuel Calvert, 'Mount Alexander from near the railway'

Wood engraving, Illustrated Melbourne Post, 27 December 1862
Picture Collection, IMP27/12/62/8
H. W. Forster's history of Waranga which relates a legend of the first 'discoverer':
No record can be found of the first discoverer of the field, though legend has it that a party of diggers camped at what is now the north end of High Street, Rushworth, and fell in with a tribe of aborigines. One digger produced a match box of containing gold, and asked a lubra: 'This fellow he stop along here?' the lubra's reply is said to have been: 'Plenty fella all same he stop along here'. The blacks are said to have taken the diggers to what came to be known as Main Gully, where the lubra plucked up grass, and gold showed.30
Even this account, however, does not exhort the clans' active participation in the founding or discovery of a new goldfield (this reference to Aboriginal people does not appear in the book's index and is relegated by the author to the status of a 'good story') though even the author considers the veracity of it to be 'likely'. The implication that the unidentified clan was not the discoverer is seemingly due to the records not revealing their on-going association with that goldfield.

[Unknown artist] Ballarat, Victoria, ca. 1854, Watercolour; 18 × 50.7 cm Rex Nan Kivell Collection NK16 National Library of Australia

Attitudes of guides and the guided

Some measure of the diversity of interface between Aboriginal people who worked as guides and non-Indigenous miners is portrayed in the following account of a party of miners trekking to new goldfields in the Ovens River area. A lengthy quote is provided as it vividly illustrates the changing relationships and attitudes from both sides of the inter-cultural divide.
Started on a new track and had no tucker with us. It was raining heavily and we had nothing to eat...where we were going there was no tracks. We should take a black guide and got us two from the run on the way. These blacks had a gun each and fearful lot of dogs...We heard shots and thought that they were shooting at someone. When we got there it was ducks and their dogs were bringing them out...We were very anxious to get on and they wanted to camp. One nigger jibbed. King Billy came with us, it was nearly dark, we saw a fire and thinking it might be friends, wanted to go to it but King Billy said 'No fear, wild blackfellows kill me all same you' so we cut through the bush. We could not quite feel we could trust him
and thought he might be leading us to these wild blacks. It was very dark and we marveled at him knowing the way he was going. Every now and then someone would ask him 'How far?' till at last he said in an impatient voice 'Long way yet'. About midnight through the thick bush he brought us to a shepherd's hut...Paid old King Billy, who was a good old black.31
Notwithstanding the sometimes difficult cross-cultural negotiations required to recruit Aboriginal guides and the crass attitudes of many miners towards Aboriginal cultural matters, there was a discernable need filled by Aboriginal guides that rendered them indispensable. John Sherer's 1853 guide book for potential immigrants to the goldfields, The Gold Finder of Australia, is representative of this approach to Aboriginal guides, noting that he and his mining party 'after great difficulty we were happily enabled to complete a bargain with two of the natives [Djadjawurrung guides] to put us upon a track which would lead us to Forest Creek'. Sherer acknowledged that for all the considerable effort his party had spent in procuring two Djadjawurrung guides 'For this
piece of service we would almost have given all the gold we had'.32 Cultural misunderstandings were predictable given the preconceived ideas each party often probably had of each other. Sherer, for example, perhaps erroneously considered that 'gold was of no value to them than the pebbles upon which they walked'. But an exchange of valued goods and occasionally a semblance of cross-cultural dialogue such as knowing that 'the native name for the hill known as Mt Macedon was GEBOOR was enough to give the clue to a perfect understanding between us'.33 H. E. Haustorfer similarly recounted in his reminiscences of the gold period his great relief at being rescued whilst in the dark bush by unidentified 'blacks' who beckoned him to lie down near their fires. After spending a night under considerable apprehension as he 'felt all sorts of misgivings, thinking they might be longing for a White Roast', in the morning he was relieved when 'the oldest black told his lubra to show me the track' and was shown the direction to his destination.34 The supremacy of Aboriginal skill in the bush was not lost on Aboriginal people who were noted to revel in the role of guide and to be animated about their proffered position, evinced by J. D. Mereweather's observations of Simon, his Aboriginal guide who: 'swaggered up to me with a jaunty air at an early hour, all prepared and equipped for his journey'.35

Guiding on water

Perhaps one of the most under-valued contributions Aboriginal people made to the new Colonial monetarist economy was the one of guiding people and stock across the river systems of Australia. Explorers and drovers utilized Aboriginal ferrying expertise on a constant basis as it afforded them the most efficient and safest mode of river pilotage, in remote areas where no other means of transportation was available. Hubert De Castella's description of Aboriginal people guiding large numbers of people, cattle and supplies across the Murray River in the 1850s was a common one:36 'Crossing the Murray, which is half a kilometre wide at that spot [junction of the Murray and Darling], was a large number of savages, [who] were camped on the river banks and had boats ready to help the travellers cross'. De Castella described the aplomb and adroitness with which the risky task of guiding people, stock and supplies across was often accomplished much to their amazement.37
Many miners and travellers such as Alfred Howitt who conducted geological research in Gippsland (1875), also depended on their Aboriginal guides to construct and pilot vessels for ferrying them across rivers and entrusted them to deliver vital stores and provisions to forward positions.38 At the Campaspe, Ovens and Serpentine Rivers there are numerous references from miners who required Aboriginal assistance from guides for 'taking the horses and cart through the R[iver] and paying a native with a canoe to cross our goods'.39 The time saving aspect of employing an Aboriginal guide was not lost on Hubert De Castella, when crossing the Goulburn River. De Castella, on his way to the

'Mount Alexander from Saw-pit Gully' from How to Farm and Settle in Australia ... by an old colonist, London: Ward and Lock, 1856

Bendigo goldfields found the Goulburn had been swollen over night by a rain storm and consequently went
up to them and speaking to the most intelligent looking I offered him a shilling if he would make a boat and take me across. My offer was immediately accepted and taking off his possum skin which was his only clothing my man asked me to dismount so that he could take my saddle. 'Make the boat first', I told him. 'Canoe sit down alonga water', he replied with a cunning smile, which meant that he already had one available by the bank ... Slowly and peacefully he took us over the dead water of the little inlet we were in ...' Be careful of my saddle when we get to the other side', I said, because the edges of the boat were not two inches above water level. 'All right, everything's right', he replied.40
Others such as James Dannock also attested to their indispensability when crossing the Murray. Dannock, ill and not responding to Aboriginal medicines, entrusted his life to some Aboriginal people who got him across the Murray.
I took bad with the dysentery and the black lubras kindly got me wattle gum and when I did not get better they said 2 days that fellow go bung [dead] so I thought I had better clear out and got the blacks to put me over the river in a canoe.41

Giving directions

Yet another aspect of an Aboriginal guide's job was to track both people and stock, a task which was performed with great regularity and efficiency across Victoria's goldfields. Frequently, passing references to Aboriginal trackers (often anonymous), appear in regional histories.42 As in the pastoral period, or perhaps more so, Aboriginal expertise in guiding lost non-Indigenous people to their desired location was frequently called upon, and answered. A miner lost in the thick bush surrounding Mt Alexander, in central Victoria, recalled how he came upon an encampment of presumably Djadjawurrung Aboriginal people who directed him to Forest Creek.43 Failed gold miner, G. C. Fead, relayed how he was indebted to an unidentified Aboriginal man and three Aboriginal women who guided him and his valuable stock through a region notorious for the risks it posed to human and animal life.44
Later in his chronicle, Fead related how he had gone to a rush at Gibbo Creek and whilst trying to accompany a drunken friend safely back to his cabin through a dangerous steep sideling they: 'passed by a camp of Blacks, and I called out for one of them to go with us over the roughest part'. An unidentified Aboriginal person obliged to guide them on their perilous sojourn, and so the drunken 'Breton led the way groping with his hands along the bank. I followed with a firm grip of his shirt. The Black brought up the rear holding on to my belt'. Comically, the Breton having dropped his bottle of rum avowed to slide down a rocky ravine to retrieve his treasured bottle. Fead stated that he 'held on to his shirt as for a matter of life and death, the Black holding firmly on to me, but it was too much for me and he slipped through my grasp'. Remarkably the Breton survived. No mention is made of what became of the Aboriginal guide.45 Aboriginal guides were also at times employed for more nefarious purposes according to Ballarat miner, Thomas Pierson, who maintained that the 'Bushrangers get them for guides'.46
The surety which Aboriginal guides and trackers afforded non-Indigenous people is vividly illustrated by frequent references in George Sugden's reminiscences of his pioneering experiences both on and off the goldfields in which he repeatedly relates numerous men and stock being expertly tracked and guided to safety over a period of time.47
Very close personal relationships between Aboriginal guides and non-Indigenous people were established out in the bush. In the letters of drovers and miners there is a palpable bond, camaraderie often borne out of being dependent for their lives on their 'sable brethren' in regions where the sourcing of safe drinking water was a matter of life and death. For some non-Indigenous people, the relationship was decidedly a benevolent master-servant relationship, permeated by overtones of 'ownership':
Had it not been for my own little black boy – Jacky that would have been the last of me – but he saw the black fellow and gave the alarm to my men. About my Black
boy Jacky I will tell you more I have him still he is my right hand man – he saved my life then ... he has been with me know [now] 15 years and a more faithful servant no man could have in fact he considers himself as my private property and I can assure you he takes far more interest in my affairs than almost any white man and in many instances he is worth gold to me for he is a splendid tracker ... you at home could not credit the way this boy can follow a lost horse or bullock and fetch it ... out of the many horses and cattle l have owned I never have lost one since I owned the Blackboy.48
Assertions of 'ownership' were not uncommon towards Aboriginal guides, particularly in the pastoral and exploratory periods of colonial Victoria. Representative of this view is Charles Lousada's reminiscences of a selector who 'had a black boy 'Toby' with that bush instinct peculiar to the race who he would take away down south towards Lardner and McDonalds track. Ham [the land selector] would go into the scrub anywhere, and when he had been in a good way, would say to Toby: 'Home Toby' and the black boy would bring him straight out'.49
Some prospecting party leaders who had forged strong ties with individual Aboriginal guides were able to exploit the remarkable skills of their aides when crossing extremely rugged terrain. Angus McMillan, a prominent squatter in the Gippsland district employed the services of 'Black Jeremy and Billy' to cut a track through the Alps to the goldfields in 1864. The numerous references to the two Aboriginal guides in McMillan's journal of the trip are testimony to the integral role they played and the forging of reliance placed on them.50
The ability to guide or to 'read' the landscape, a highly developed knowledge and skill refined over the millennia by Aboriginal people, was immediately transferable to the needs of the non-Indigenous colonists and especially greenhorn gold seekers. Guiding had immediate applications which soon were utilized in many non-Indigenous applications, both before and during (and after) the gold rush period. Guiding exercised skills which were outside the ambit of most Europeans, and the use of which was the major reason for their association with the gold miners. The abilities and knowledge they shared made them a valuable asset to their employers, and a source of wonder to a wider public. In Aboriginal societies the skills of a guide are time-honored and traditional ones. The expertise displayed by Aboriginal guides, which has often been described with awe, has been developed as an integral part of the complex web of interconnections between people and land which is the fundamental characteristic of Aboriginal society. The use of this craft in a European setting is an example of the way in which Aborigines have successfully adapted the elements of their traditional lifeways to a new world order.
It has been demonstrated that the significance of Aboriginal guides was not lost to travellers on the goldfields. The very significant and varied roles Aboriginal guides fulfilled especially in the initial alluvial gold rush period when vast tracts of Victoria
remained trackless or at best rudimentary is monumental – showing new goldfields, rescuing, providing food, liaising, warning, trading and naming features in the landscape, determining the most direct and easily traversable route (often along traditional pathways) and locating food, medicine and water in order to sustain their non-Indigenous companions, safely conveying gold seekers and others by fording rivers safely, preparing temporary shelters, acting as diplomats and interpreters, negotiating passage through the country of resident clans met on the line of march and locating precious waterholes for horses and other stock.
The rationale for Aboriginal people to take on the role of guide is complex. Many guides clearly took on the role spontaneously out of a sense of sheer enjoyment they derived from walking and talking their country. Others carefully negotiated their work relationships with the view of material gain as they sought to find their niche within the imposed Western economy in the culturally prestigious and vital role of guide, or what would be termed in today's parlance, 'expert Indigenous consultant'. In the role of guide they ruled supreme and there was a natural incentive for Aboriginal people to feel empowered in their superiority over the clumsy and inept colonizers, enabling them to parley the conditions of employment on their terms. There is also evidence that others assumed the role of guide to broker and further strengthen kinship relationships with key non-Indigenous people.
Recognition has been tardy on the topic. It would appear that in many instances monuments, local history publications and indeed general gold historiography could be accused (probably both consciously and sub-consciously) of selectively culling Aboriginal guides from its point of vision. History is the poorer for it.


Fiona Probyn, 'An Ethics of Following and the No Road Film: Trackers, Followers and Fanatics,' Australian Humanities Review, Issue 37, December 2005; P. Clarke, Aboriginal Plant Collectors: botanists and Australian Aboriginal people in the nineteenth century, Dural, NSW: Rosenberg Publishing, 2008; Henry Reynolds, Black Pioneers, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 2000.


J. D. Mereweather, Diary of a Working Clergyman in Australia, 18503, London: Hatchard, 1859.


A. Le Souef, 'Personal Recollections of Early Victoria'. Unpublished manuscript held in the South Australia Museum.


See Ian D. Clark and D. F. Cahir, 'The Comfort of Strangers: hospitality on the Victorian Goldfields, 1850-1860', Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, vol. 15, 2008, pp. 2–7; D. F. Cahir, 'Black Gold: the role of Aboriginal people on the goldfields of Victoria, 1850-1870'. Unpublished PhD Thesis, School of Business, University of Ballarat, 2007.


D. F. Cahir, 'Conflict and Conciliation: a history of Wathawurrung encounters with the colonisers, 1797-1849'. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Ballarat, 2001.


G. Baker, 'Exploring with Aborigines: Thomas Mitchell and his Aboriginal guides', Aboriginal History, no. 22, 1988, p. 36.


Reynolds, pp. 96–7.


L. Blake, Gold Escorts in Australia, South Melbourne, Vic.: Mamllan, 1993, p. 20.


Halls Gap & Grampians Historical Society, Victoria's Wonderland, Halls Gap, Vic.: The Society, 2006, pp. 3–4.


See Le Souef; S. Robe, ed., Seweryn Korzelinski: memoirs of gold-digging in Australia, St Lucia, Qld: UQP, 1979, p. 18.


Clarke, 1860, cited in S. Wesson, 'The Aborigines of Eastern Victoria and Far South-Eastern New South Wales, 18301910: an historical geography'. Unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University, 2002, p. 228.


R. Gow, 'Journal', MS 24, AIATSIS, Canberra.


W. T. Dawson cited in John Adams, Mountain Gold, Trafalgar, Vic.: Trafalgar Shire Council, 1980, p. 20.


John Sherer, The Gold-Finder of Australia, first published in 1853, facsimile edition, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 1973, p. 131.


F. Lancelott, Australia as It Is: its settlements, farms and goldfields, London: Colburn & Co, 1852, pp. 50-1.


Phillip Pepper and T. de Araugo, What Did Happen to the Aborigines of Victoria. Volume 1: the Kurnai of Gippsland, Melbourne: Hyland House, 1985, p. 102.


From 'The Emigrant in Australia', p. 71 cited in Robin Annear, Nothing But Gold: the diggers of 1852, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1999, pp. 73–4.


Tom Griffiths, ed., The Life and Adventures of Edward Snell, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1988, p. 277.


Blake, p. 31.


Baker in Castlemaine Association of Pioneers and Old Residents, Records of the Castlemaine Pioneers, Melbourne, Rigby, 1972, p. 109. Ned Peters' party was also totally reliant on their Aboriginal guides. See L. Blake, ed., A Gold Digger's Diaries by Ned Peters, Geelong, Vic.: Neptune Press, 1981, p. 24.


J. Chapple, 'Diary', MS 11792, Australian Manuscript Collection, State Library of Victoria.


B. Collett, Wednesdays Closest to the Full Moon, Carlton, Vic.: MUP, 1994, pp. 56-7.


R. Christie, Tracks to the Woods Point and Jordan Goldfields, Woods Point, Vic.: The Author, 1989.


K. Fairweather, Time to Remember: the history of gold mining on the Tambo and its tributaries, Bairnsdale, Vic.: James Yeates and Sons, 1975, p. 16.


B. Lloyd and H. Combes, Gold at Gaffneys Creek, Wangaratta, Vic.: Shoe String Press, 1981.


P. Gootch, 'Canadian and Prince Regent Gullies'. Geelong Advertiser, 10 September 1852.


C. Ferguson, Experiences of a Forty-Niner in Australia and New Zealand, first published in 1888, facsimile edition, Melbourne: Cheshire, 1979.


H. W. Forster, Waranga. Melbourne: Cheshire, 1965, p. 19.


S. M. Walker, Glenlyon Connections, Stanthorpe, Qld: Author, 1993, p. 227.


Sherer, p. 131.




H. Haustorfer, 'Reminiscences', MS 7033, Folder 23, National Library of Australia.


Mereweather, pp. 146-7.


'Bark Canoes', Illustrated Melbourne Post, 1862; Mereweather, pp. 145,193 & 209.


H. D. Castella, Australian Squatters, trans. C. B. Thornton-Smith, Melbourne: MUP, 1987 p. 128.


Howitt Papers, sourced from B. Attwood, ed., A Life Together, a Life Apart: a history of relations between Europeans and Aborigines, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1994, p. 139.


Thomas Blyth, 'Diary', MS 3878, National Library of Australia.


Castella, pp.135-6.


James Dannock`, 'Autobiography', Mfm M1862, National Library of Australia, p. 63.


See A. Mitchell, Fernshaw the Forgotten Village, Healesville, Vic.: The Author, 2001; R. Christie and W. Gray, Victoria's Forgotten Goldfield: history of Dargo and Crooked River, Sale, Vic.: The Authors 1981; M. Ronan, ed., Early Dederang 1854-1956 from the notebook of Michael James Goonan, [Balwyn North, Vic.:] The Author, 2004; D. O'Bryan, Pioneering East Gippsland, Gisborne, Vic.: The Author, 1983.


S. Mossman, ed., Emigrants' Letters from Australia, London: Addey and Co., 1853, p. 35.


G. Fead, 'Notes of an Unsettled Life', Gippsland Heritage Journal, no. 16, 1994, p. 32.


Fead, p. 35.


Thomas Pierson, 'Diaries', MS 11646, Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.


G. Sugden, 'Pioneering Life in Outback Stations of Victoria', MS 301, Royal Historical Society of Victoria, pp. 85-96.


Gow, 'Journal', p. 7; R. Salisbury, Letter, MS 210, National Library of Australia.


C. Lousada, 'Old Brandy Creek and Other Reminiscences', MS 350, Royal Historical Society of Victoria, p. 8.


R. Christie, Across the Alps, Stratford, Vic.: High Country, 1989, pp. 23-36.